NieR: Automata features multiple endings, most of which skew into strange, silly, happy, sad, and other territories, as well as many places few games have explored before.
Siliconera spoke with Yoko Taro, director of NieR: Automata, to learn more about the decisions and inspirations that created some of the game’s varied endings.
Please be warned that there are spoilers ahead for those who have not fully experienced the game’s many endings.
In a previous interview with Siliconera, you stated that NieR: Automata would have a hopeful ending, and in some of the endings, it did! What lead you to add more hopeful endings to this game?
Yoko Taro, Director: I believe that E was essentially the happy ending. This is the first time I’ve taken on this kind of challenge. I actually didn’t come up with the happy ending initially when creating and developing this game. I kind of left that off to the side for a very long time and continued to work on some of the other aspects of the game. As I developed all of the characters’ journeys, I started thinking about what would be the most fitting ending for all of those characters, and that resulted in the E ending.
It’s not something that I desired, but I believe, in the world of writing, the characters move toward that ending themselves, and they directed me to write toward that end. In the end, it’s probably what the characters had hoped for – what they would have desired.
That happens quite a lot, with the characters figuring out for themselves what comes next in terms of their own stories.
The ending of the game has players playing an Asteroids-like game where you shoot the development team. Was it that the player has been battling the development team the whole time?
In terms of that particular end sequence, the way they put it, in regards to all the efforts they put into the game, and the moment where you have your last hope, they wanted to depict it so the system and everything was being destroyed. So, you’re breaking through that system and stepping outside to find the last hope.
It’s kind of like how humans look to God for an answer, or something like that. I was wondering if the game could also offer that kind of sentiment, so to speak. So that’s where the overall structure came about. Considering NieR: Automata is deeply connected with the future and systematic elements, we wanted to make it so you’re destroying that data and reaching outside of that game world to find that bit of last hope.
Also, because I believe that video games are a medium that allows us to explore things that aren’t possible through movies or books, I am constantly thinking about what could be possible in that medium. That’s always what I’ve looked to do ever since Drakengard – always believing that video games had the potential to deliver something significantly different, from movies or books. That’s always at the back of my mind – thinking of creative ways to explore with the medium.
You’re given the option to sacrifice your data to help other players during the shmup ending. What did you want players to feel when they deleted their data this time?
In terms of thematic elements, I don’t necessarily want to design that for the players. I want the players to figure it out for themselves and feel whatever they’d like to feel from that particular outcome.
In the midst of development, we had an idea of bringing out messages from overseas rooting for another player, and we wanted to build that into the structure. The idea was to bring out messages from conflicting countries – countries that could be in political conflict. We had that idea initially, but we didn’t feel like it was right for the designer to be forcing that on the players, so we shifted into providing a structure where random messages would appear in the player’s feed and ending, and have the players figure out for themselves what the purpose of this was.
Why am I doing this? What is the end result? What am I getting out of this? These are the questions I wanted the player to ask themselves by providing that kind of medium through seeing those messages and through saving other players.
This isn’t the first time you’ve played around with deleting save data. Why do you feel this is such a big deal for players? Why offer this sacrifice?
When I was young, I was playing Dragon Quest. As I was shifting the cartridge around, my save data completely disappeared. I was very shocked about it, but my parents didn’t share that kind of sentiment. They didn’t understand what the issue was. We were talking about the same exact thing, but my parents didn’t understand whereas I was extremely distressed about the situation. That made me question what the difference was between the reactions to the same situation, which was kind of the origin of the idea.
There’s also another reason that’s more recent. When I was developing the original NieR, that was when a lot of people were starting to post their gameplay videos on YouTube, and that was gaining a lot of popularity at the time. It became a slight issue, at least least in Japan, because a lot of people were experiencing games just by viewing them.
I am accepting of this. I understand that, as technology evolves, there are going to be new ways people enjoy different mediums. That said, for people who are paying full price for a particular game, if they’re experiencing the same thing as someone who’s just watching it on YouTube, I don’t feel that is quite right. So, I believe this particular experience is a special experience that only people who play through the game are going to really understand. I believe that it adds value to the player’s experience. This is something that people who are just watching won’t quite understand to the same degree as people who have spent time and played through the game.
So, that was one of the reasons why I included this kind of deletion of save data into the entire structure. I wanted something that could only be experienced by a player who invested so much time into playing the game.